Ever since I’d taught my next-door neighbour to read – we were both four years old – I was obsessed with the idea of going to school. If my big brother could go, why couldn’t I?
I’d always loved books. Probably my mom instilled that love in me by reading to me every night at bedtime. Winnie-the-Pooh was my favourite, hands down, especially since she read the stories with all the dramatic expression worthy of a Broadway star! From squeaky Piglet to saaad Eeyore: it wasn’t hard to fathom why I begged her to read the stories again and again. Bless her, she always complied.
So as a curious child with a penchant for books, I was dying to go to school, the source of even more of them. At only four, I wasn’t legally permitted to start Kindergarten yet… you had to be five. But that didn’t stop me from nagging my mother into trying to get me into a class – somewhere, anywhere!
I cajoled her into schlepping me – on foot – from one elementary school to another, all over the Snowdon district of Montreal where we lived. One by one, they all said no: Van Horne School, Iona School, and others whose names escape me. Finally we arrived at the last on the list: Royal Vale School, then located between Clanranald and Macdonald Avenues, near Dupuis. I’ll never forget that fateful encounter.
We trudged into the lobby and found our way to the principal’s office, both of us practically holding our breath, hardly daring to hope. “Come in,” came a sweet woman’s voice, when my mother knocked on the door.
As we entered her cramped office, she looked me up and down – there wasn’t much to see, as I was tiny, as well as being young – and I studied her in response. I saw a slim bird-like woman wearing a skirt and cardigan, pearls, a halo of fluffy white hair, and a broad smile.
“Well hello!” she said, beaming down at me. “And what’s your name?”
“Ellen,” I piped up. I liked this lady already!
“And how old are you, Ellen?”
At this point my mom interjected an apology, to the effect that she knew children starting school had to be five, but I had nagged her and nagged her, and, well, here we were.
Miss Dixon, for that was the principal’s name, seemed to ignore my mother, and continued questioning me. “Do you know when your birthday is, Ellen?”
Oh yes I did! “October eighth,” my voice rang out confidently.
Miss Dixon gasped. “Really? Why, that’s my birthday too!”
Smiles broke out all around! We hadn’t counted on this!
She leaned in closer, “Can you count to ten for me, Ellen?”
Oh yes I could! Triumphantly my voice announced, “One, two, three, five, seven, nine, ten!!”
Er… somehow I suspected that recitation didn’t take as long as it should have – but Miss Dixon was grinning even more broadly now.
And that is how I started attending Royal Vale School in September, 1950, at the tender age of four years, eleven months.